Cover Versions. Part 1: Punk

How to create your very own punk cover versions of classics!

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If you're reading this, chances are:

01. You're in a punk band 02. You want to write your own material, but can't get the hang of it, and so figure covers might help give you a kick-start 03. You've heard some punk covers before, and want to know how the hell they did it.

The key point to remember when making a punk cover version is that the song should be reasonably simple in terms of structure - ideally based around a verse and chorus only. For my first punk cover, the inspiration came from an unlikely place. I was at a karaoke night in the bar I work at, having a drink, when the call came for someone to sing Flashdance (What A Feeling) by Irene Cara. The song started out very well, but at about halfway through, the singing degenerated. At this point my friend Foster turned to me and said "With some heavy guitar backing that'd make a great punk cover".

The next day I formulated a plan. I searched the internet for a chord sequence for the song (because, to my suprise, this site didn't have it). When I found one, I noticed that the song is in the key of Bb. Understandably annoyed at the usage of a low Eb, I decided to move all chords up 1 fret, making the song in the much happier key of B.

The next dilemma was how to perform the song. For those of you who have listened to the song before, there is a small introduction, and 2 verses with a very soft feel to them. For the introduction, I decided to use clean, chorused chords, as that would create a false sense of security for the unaware listener, and a greater contrast for later on. Then, from there on in, I used an overdriven sound with a singlecoil pickup, and changed all chords to powerchords (I let them ring during the first 2 verses, and then kept them mostly muted) for simplicity's sake. I also removed a chord change to low E at the end of the verses, as I felt that it over-complicated the playing, as was only hit once as a passing chord to F#.

From this, I learnt the simplest way to create punk covers:

01. Find the original song transcribed (chord sequences can sometimes be better for this) and identify the key of the song. Consider changing to a "whole note" major key (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) if it would make the song sound better. 02. Identify any hooks or riffs which are essential to the song, and make a note to keep them as close to the original as possible (in the case of Flashdance, during the "What a feeling/Please believe it" line at the beginning of the chorus, there is a stop-start feel with chord changes) This ensures a memorable performance. 03. Convert the song over to power chords, and decide whether to implement full chords at any point in the song. Consider getting your bassist to play the major-minor notes of the powerchords as a complementary "harmony". This gives you the raw sound of power chords, but will make the song more structured. 04. Decide whether or not the song would benefit from a different tempo (In Flashdance, the sections after the first 2 verses were sped up).

For songs with a guitar solo, the decision whether to include the original solo or just to construct one based around the scale of the song, is a decision best taken based on the merits of each song. For some more inspiration, check out the New Found Glory movie soundtrack album, Goldfinger's version of Nene Simone's "99 Red Balloons", or the Sid Vicious version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way".

I'll try and get an article for acoustic covers up as soon as I can, so you can start planning your unplugged gigs. Until then...

74 comments sorted by best / new / date

    cant_think_of_1
    interesting artical...i wanna doa cover song..just for the heck of it..a local band id a cover to britney spear's "hit me one more time" it was pretty cool..i thought i sounded good..but it was funny that they did that song..but at least they were singing and were musically talented unlike britney spears
    Zerostarr
    Punk covers dont really take much, I mean I've lost count of Cure songs & Smiths songs I've turned into covers, the only thing about it is you have to make the song your own, not just play the chords as bar chords with distortion, weather it be adding a insperational solo or some sort of backing riff, you have to make the song your own, good basic musical knowledge would be handy *thumb motion*
    zao1988
    great artical i tryied it on end of the wrld and its pretty catchy thnx dude
    rhcpcure2826
    talk about a cynic, destari. and you are very wrong; dont try to lecture me on something like major/minor, especially when you yourself dont know what the hell you're talking about
    rhcpcure2826
    thank you, revelationstorm. helpimarock, where do i start with that statement; what if i go up an octave??? then will Bb be "happier"??? it all depends on what chords i use AROUND the B/Bb or if it's in a major or minor key. that question way up there was NOT meant to be answered. i know theory THAT basic.
    Buddhist_Rapper
    so many people cover hit me baby one more time... its starting to get old. maybe cover a DIFFERENT pop song
    RevelationStorm
    if thats an attempt at being musically superior and pointing out a flaw, you're wrong. it does sound happier - a B minor is a minor chord that is both more full and sadder. try it.
    Bb is B-flat you moron. Not B-Minor. Quit trying to sound intelligent.
    troutBoy
    ChiliWillie: everyone uses power chords. Even metal bands. THINK PEOPLE
    Yeah but you don't see Metallica playing a 3 powerchord riff for an entire song do you?
    Elburrito
    Also, you could change the GENRE not the nots. Like fingerpick it to make it sound alternative, power chords for rock, and Up beats for SKA. Its soo simple
    harm0n20
    why does everybody act like they are gonna be the next big thing?? i can pretty much garuntee that NONE of us will ever be known outside of our state maybe.
    meadowskid
    my band is doing a blue rodeo cover... ick.... but when we play it it actually sounds alright so its all good.
    andrestx182
    nice article, we did a cover version of wonderfull tonight by Eric Clapton, it was fun
    dmasterfunk
    hahaha, oh the controversy. why are ppl always complaining about what they dont like? u dont like it, u dont have to. lol, its kindof funny how people complain about punk and blink182's genre, and if someone is a sellout, who gives a shi*? is their music good? thats all that matters. and if u dont think its good, thats your choice, good for you. so dont complain about punk, or covers, or whateva. have your own opinion, but keep it civil
    piss_off
    my band did a cover of the king of the hill theme song for a show about a year ago. everyone loved us.
    lparton
    Look at Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Theyve got Fat Mike, a punk legend, on bass. Their songs may be covers, but they are still amazing. Or MxPx, they do covers, but theyre still a great band. Listen to turning japanese, or Land down under.
    Volkl
    Thanks for this article man I've always wanted to know how they cover song and make em so punk so well. Great Job
    kick the flips
    before you guys say that covers suck, listen to Punk goes Pop. Or Pop goes Punk. can't remember which... Anyway, listen to the cover of "I'm real" by The Starting Line or "Send me an Angel" by Thrice. Those covers rocked my face off and made me wanted to do covers. So don't knock punk just because it's easy to play. Suckas...
    vanceboy
    Covers get old after awhile. 99 red balloons is one of the few that i like. also, whoever said Bb is B minor is a dumass. But in GENERAL, covers suck, especially punk ones. Dont even try to deny it.
    Captain Colon
    I don't see how "OMG DON'T BE A COVER BAND THAT'S SO LAME BE ORIGINAL YOU STUPID SACK OF SHIT" has anything to do with this article whatsoever.
    Purem8
    Destari: rhcpcure2826: how is b "happier" than Bb?? if thats an attempt at being musically superior and pointing out a flaw, you're wrong. it does sound happier - a B minor is a minor chord that is both more full and sadder. try it. [POSTED: 05 July 2004 - 14:11]| LMFAO jesus dear god, funny? Destari, your getting on this guy for putting on a false knowledge of music, when you yourself don't have the slightest clue. Bb = B flat, Bm = B minor. The difference between B and Bb is just a key change. rhcpcure2826 is right. B isn't happier than Bb. Just the column writer's preference in key. (One slide with your capo will demo this.) The difference between B and Bm is huge. It means a change in notes, change in mood, change in the entire scale, and often other chords in the song. Please dear jesus god.. If you don't know shit, Don't post. Thnx. -Ryan-
    original_rocker
    yeah, the most non related songs would usually wound the best, and you would be more original in a way, like a punk cover of a blink 182 song would be completely pointless
    Blink_me_42
    me n my band are gunna cover eskimo joe, from the sea. and i suggest trying christina agulira beautiful. sumtimes the deadset gayest songs are the best for punk covers.
    Distilla_Queen6
    I JUST FELT LIKE WRITING SOMETHING. MY CAPS LOCK IS BROKEN....UH BYE OH YEAH IF I WOULD HAVE READ THE ARTICLLE I'M SURE IT WAS WONDERFUL./.....
    playonforever
    this is so happy. I think the best bands start out writting their own material from the start. It must be original and not have the least amount of outside influence as possible, that makes for unique crap.
    Cookie_master
    VERY good article, but you can use normal chords for punk too, just distorded it. Its sounds very good, listen to rancid
    DParis
    I find it funny that someone called psychoshredder is writing a punk article
    the_beastly_one
    if thats an attempt at being musically superior and pointing out a flaw, you're wrong. it does sound happier - a B minor is a minor chord that is both more full and sadder. try it. [POSTED: 05 July 2004 - 14:11]| Um, dude, that little b is a flat symbol. Minor is a small m. Anyway, keys can sound darker or lighter depending on how they're used, maybe in this case, Bb is more sinister than B, but I don't know the song so I can't comment on that.
    Destari
    rhcpcure2826: how is b "happier" than Bb??
    if thats an attempt at being musically superior and pointing out a flaw, you're wrong. it does sound happier - a B minor is a minor chord that is both more full and sadder. try it.
    Iam138
    is your cover recoreded somewhere? I would like to hear it. good article by the way
    bobjewell87
    Does it really^ Good article you know what youre doing really and this should help a lot of people